- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Saudi Arabia continues to fund and export its Wahhabi brand of Islam, making it a “strategic threat” to the United States in the worldwide war on terror, the chairman of the U.S. government commission on religious freedom said yesterday.

“It is an ideology that is incompatible with the war on terrorism,” said Michael Young, chairman of the State Department’s Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission, established by Congress during the Clinton administration as a State Department body charged with monitoring religious rights, held a hearing yesterday titled: “Is Saudi Arabia a Strategic Threat: The Global Propagation of Intolerance.”

Wahhabism is a puritanical form of Islam that teaches intolerance of anyone who does not conform to its worldview — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It is taught in Saudi schools and preached in tens of thousands of government-supported mosques.

Several panelists said considering this type of education, it was no accident that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis.

In addition, Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth — in the form of government grants, individual donations by members of the royal family and charity boxes at mosques — has been responsible for exporting and funding this ideology to Islamic schools and mosques in Pakistan, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and East Africa, members of the panel said.

“The Saudi royal family has shown it has no inclination for real reform,” said Mai Yamani, a Saudi academic who has been threatened with arrest if she returns to her country.

“Not only has the state embraced the hard-liners, the hard-liners are the state, deeply embedded in the structure. The state gives [fundamentalist clerics] power and money in return for religious legitimacy,” she told the hearing.

Since September 11 and especially after a series of recent suicide attacks in the desert kingdom, the Saudi rulers have sought to prove that they are on the same side as the United States in the war on terrorism.

For example, Saudi officials used prime-time TV this week in their campaign against extremism by interrupting a popular comedy show to air footage of a jailed Muslim cleric renouncing his calls for Islamic militants to attack the West.

Appearing on Saudi state television, cleric Ali al-Khudair said of his previous “fatwas,” or religious edicts, calling for attacks on the West, “If I had the choice, I would not have said them. I hope that, God willing, I have time to correct them.”

In late May, al-Khudair and two other clerics, Nasser al-Fahd and Ahmad al-Khalidi, were arrested in an antiterror sweep.

In Monday’s broadcast, al-Khudair, condemned the Nov. 8 suicide bombing of a residential compound housing foreign workers — which killed 17 persons, most of them Arabs — in Riyadh as “the work of criminals.”

Members of the panel said yesterday they were pessimistic about Saudi efforts to combat extremism.

“We’ve struck a Faustian bargain, turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s domestic policies … and we’ve turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabian efforts to export Wahhabism,” said Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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